Attention Training

Daniel Goleman from "Is Attention the Secret to Emotional Intelligence?" by Jason Marsh, Greater Good: Mind & Body, Nov. 14, 2013:

“The Card Players” by Paul Cézanne

“The Card Players” by Paul Cézanne

I think attentional skills are fundamentally under siege today. Never before in human history have there been so many seductive distractors in a person’s day, in a given hour, or in ten minutes. There are pingings and pop-ups and all kinds of sensory impingements on our attention that want to pull us away from what we’re trying to focus on.

So I think that a book on focus is all the more timely, particularly in helping us understand why it matters that we’re not able to sustain focus for as long as used to be the case, either on what it is we’re supposed to be doing or on the person we’re with.

Being able to focus on the other person rather than the text you just received has become the new fundamental requirement for having a relationship with that person. If you go to a restaurant these days, for instance, you see people sitting together, at the same table, staring at their video screens, their phone, their iPad, or whatever it may be—and not talking to each other. That’s become the new norm. And what it means is that the connection is being damaged to some extent—threatened by the fact that we’re together, but we’re not together. We’re alone together.

And I think this is another reason to develop a meta-awareness about where our attention has gone. I think we need to make more effort and cultivate more strength to detach [our attention] from that thing that is so tempting over there, and bring it back to the person in front of us.

I’m terribly worried about us as a species—particularly the young people who are growing up with this norm as the baseline. I don’t know what the consequence will be, but I can’t imagine it will be wonderful. We all have the potential to get better resisting, but we’ve never as a whole had to do this—never had to summon up the effort it takes.

For example, meditation is, from a cognitive science point of view, the retraining of attention—a bulking up of the neural circuitry that allows you to detach from where your mind has wandered, bring it back to the point of focus, and keep it there. That is the basic repetition of the mind in any kind of meditation. And that’s also what builds up the willpower to resist the pull of electronics and stay with the human world.

We’ve always had the capacity for this, but it’s also always been something that only a small minority of people bothered to do. I’m actually now in favor of making it part of the curriculum so every kid learns it. But I wouldn’t call it meditation; I would say “attention training.” It’s actually a very mundane application of what we’re learning in the science of attention about how to pay better attention—how to focus with more strength.

Read the rest of the interview...

See also:

  • Goleman, D. (2013). Focus: The hidden driver of excellence. [Amazon, library]
  • Our Attention Is Under Siege "The Energy Project's CEO, Tony Schwartz, sits down with thought leader Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence) to discuss the impact of technology on our ability to focus, and how training attention can positively influence both our performance and our relationships."